By Phillip Williams
TEXARKANA–The Pleasant Grove Hawks utilized potent passing in the first half, and lethal landlubbing in the second, to garrote the Gilmer Buckeyes, 37-24, in a District 6-4A Division II dustup of two state-ranked teams at Hawk Stadium Friday night.
Gilmer (5-3, 1-1) also made miscues at critical times, including a fumble out of the back of the Pleasant Grove (7-1, 2-0) end zone that short-circuited a fourth-quarter comeback while the East Texas Yamboree carnival was in full swing in the Buckeyes’ city about 90 miles away.
Gilmer landed the first haymaker when Jose Hernandez (who later whammed three successful PATs) airlifted a 33-yard field goal with 8:51.2 remaining in the first period. (The Pleasant Grove scoreboard records time remaining in a quarter down to the tenth of a second).
It was the Buckeyes’ first and last lead all night–and its lifespan was brief. Pleasant Grove players had the words “FULL TILT” in white letters on the backs of their black jerseys, and they proceeded to show, as one observer noted, they meant it.
The Hawks hastened 82 yards in only three plays–73 of them on a pass from quarterback Ben Harmon to Dylan Hopkins–to tally on Logan Johnson’s 8-yard race around left end. Anthony Mejia then launched the first of his five successful PAT kicks with 7:59.8 left in the opening verse.
Harmon soon dispatched a 68-yard scoring sling to Sergio Rodriguez with 5:21.2 still left in the first chapter, but the Buckeyes bounded back on quarterback Mason Hurt’s 5-yard TD toss to Eddie Ray with 14.2 seconds left in the period, making it 14-10 at first quarter’s end.
Pleasant Grove counter-punched when K.J. Hicks whizzed two yards around left end with 9:35.1 left to twirling time, but Gilmer gallantly hit another haymaker when Hurt airmailed an 8-yard TD to Ray wth 7:29.5 remaining to intermission. The prolific offenses then cooled for the rest of the half, when the hosts led 21-17.
The Hawks, however, resorted to ground troops to pull away with two elongated touchdown treaks in the third quarter. The first ingested 77 yards in 12 plays (only two of which were passes, both incomplete) and concluded on Harmon’s 1-yard sneak with 6:48 left.
Rodriguez lit the stage for the next TD by purloining a pass from Hurt and returning it to the Buckeye 48. On the eighth play afterward, all of them rushes, runner Bruce Garrett bopped into Beulah Land from three yards out with 1:53.8 left in the quarter.
Down 35-17, the Buckeyes appeared to be fatally wounded. They had other ideas, however.
Abetted by a 13-yard penalty against the hosts, Gilmer trooped 65 yards in nine plays to score when Darrell Bush lugged the pigskin three yards with 10:19 left in the fray. Then the Buckeyes halted the Hawks on fourth down at the visitors’ 40 with 8:11.6 left, but soon committed what was perhaps their most lethal error when Hurt heaved what first appeared to be a 21-yard TD to Ray, only to have it discovered that Ray had fumbled the ball out of the end zone, giving possession to the Hawks with 6:53 left.
Refusing to surrender, Gilmer eventually forced the hosts to punt–but the kick went 50 yards to the Buckeye 2. After Hurt threw incomplete, what appeared to be a problem with a snap from center resulted in a safety for the Hawks with 3:48.9 to go.
Gilmer kicked onside, but unsuccessfully. With little time left, the visitors halted the Hawks on fourth down at the Buckeye 6 and staged a last-ditch offensive gasp which ended with a hook-and-ladder pass play that reached the Pleasant Grove 20 as time expired.